TANF reform aims to promote self-sufficiency for low-income Tennessee families, governor says


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Changes are on the way for a program that’s depended upon by low-income families in Tennessee. Governor Bill Lee said it was an effort to modernize the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, known as TANF.

Lee was joined by other state leaders for Wednesday’s announcement at the Martha O’Bryan Center in Nashville. That’s a nonprofit that helps low income families find jobs and get financial stability, which the governor says is what the TANF Opportunity Act aimed to do as well.

The legislation passed during this year’s session. Lawmakers said their goals included giving families incentives to be self-sufficient, to invest TANF reserve funding, to make sure the state used any dollars that were not being spent, and to protect against fraud, waste, and abuse.

“The real goal is to work more effectively for the families in this state who need these funds in order to help them in their access to opportunity,” said Governor Lee. “I’m particularly proud that we’re investing in those who are pursuing educational opportunities.”

Speaker Cameron Sexton said the legislation was passed through a bipartisan effort.

“I know a lot of people say there’s a lot of partisanship going on but not here in Tennessee,” Sexton said. “In Tennessee we do work together for the common cause to help people find that opportunity and that hope to change their lives, to build a career and to get to a place that they never thought they could achieve.”

The governor’s office said the key components of the legislation are the following:

· Increasing the monthly average cash assistance families receive under Tennessee’s TANF funded Families First Program from $277 to $387.

· Creating a two-year Educational Opportunity Pilot Program for qualifying families seeking a degree, certification, or other educational advancement.

· Establishing the Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Program to invest $180 million in providing comprehensive support to families as they move from crisis to career pathways.

· Providing $50 million in Families First Community Grants to smaller non-profits across the state.

· Establishing a 21-member TANF Advisory Board to provide input on the direction of the TANF program and select partners to conduct program research.

· Implementing a $191 million TANF reserve cap so that beginning in Federal Fiscal Year 2022, unspent funds beyond that cap will be used to fund Families First Community Grants.

· Protecting the integrity of the TANF program by increasing civil penalties for individuals who try to secure benefits with a false identity.

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